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The vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Wireless Networking Business Unit is leaving his post for at least six months, officials at the San Jose, Calif., networking giant confirmed Friday.

Bill Rossi, who joined Cisco Systems Inc. in 1995, has been with the industry-leading wireless unit since 1999. He oversees the company’s SWAN (Structured Wireless Aware Network) strategy, which aims to integrate wired and wireless networks. His business unit includes Cisco’s Aironet line of Wi-Fi access points and related management software.

Rossi’s leave of absence will begin in early March. Dave Leonard, vice president of engineering at Cisco, will take his place.

“Bill has shown tremendous leadership in building a world-class team and driving Cisco’s wireless LAN business to its number-one market-share position, and we look forward to his return to Cisco,” said Luca Cafiero, senior vice president and general manager of the Data Center, Storage, Switching and Wireless Technology Group at Cisco.

Officials declined to say whether Rossi will return to the wireless unit or to another area of Cisco.

News of Rossi’s departure follows the company’s recent acquisition of Airespace Inc., a deal due to close at the end of April. Airespace, also based in San Jose, is a wireless LAN switching startup that has gone head-to-head with Cisco for several major corporate Wi-Fi contracts.

Read more here about Cisco’s acquisition of Airespace.

Cisco’s participation in the WLAN switch space up until the acquisition has been a strategy that involves sticking a wireless blade called the Wireless LAN Solutions Module into its Catalyst 6500 networking switch.

And while the company is the top-selling enterprise access point vendor in the industry by a landslide, analysts have criticized Rossi’s unit in the past for not having a better-evolved WLAN switch strategy.

“I think the Cisco staff fell behind technically,” said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner Inc. in San Jose. “That may be what is behind this.”

Cisco officials declined to comment on where the current Airespace staff will fit in after the merger is complete. Brett Galloway, who currently is CEO of Airespace, has said he definitely plans to stay on with the company.

“If Cisco wants to keep the best Airespace people, they had better make room for some,” Dulaney said. “Sort of a Roman strategy: Conquer and then make a few of them citizens of Rome. The rest become slaves.”

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